The Charlotte Hornets have lost six straight games, and the cavalry is not yet arriving.
Charlotte, which visits the Miami Heat on Thursday night, are still without two starters due to injuries: point guard LaMelo Ball (ankle) and Gordon Hayward (shoulder). In addition, reserve forward Cody Martin (quad) is also injured, and all three players have been ruled out for Thursday night.
“They’re getting closer (to returning),” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of the trio, officially listed as day-to-day. “They’re doing everything they can (to return). People stop me on the street and ask me when they’re coming back. They’re in the gym, working at night, doing double duty.”
Last season, Ball averaged 20.1 points and led the Hornets in assists (7.6) and steals (1.6). He established himself as one of the most dynamic point guards in the NBA, blessed with extraordinary court vision. He followed his Rookie of the Year season by making the All-Star Game last season at age 20.
Hayward ranked fourth on the Hornets last season in scoring (15.9) and assists (3.6). But Hayward, who missed 33 games last season, can’t seem to stay healthy.
Both of these Hornets stars were effective from 3-point range last season, with Hayward connecting on 39.1 percent and Ball hitting on 38.9 percent.
Without them on Wednesday, the Hornets lost at home to the Portland Trail Blazers, 105-95.
Guards Terry Rozier and Dennis Smith Jr. are the main players filling Ball’s role of distributor. Both Rozier and Smith entered Wednesday averaging more than 6.0 assists.
Up front, the Hornets are starting forwards Kelly Oubre Jr. and P.J. Washington and center Mason Plumlee. Oubre, though, shot just 1-for-11 on 3-pointers in the loss to Portland, and the Hornets’ bench was outscored 35-22.
Then again, the Heat know all about losing to Portland as the Trail Blazers defeated the Heat 110-107 on Monday night.
“It felt like we couldn’t get a stop,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Heat, who have lost two straight games, have three contests remaining on this four-game homestand to get themselves right.
It would help Miami greatly if shooting guard Tyler Herro returns from a sprained left ankle. He ranks second on the Heat in scoring (19.6) and rebounds (6.4). He is also considered day-to-day.
Heat forward Jimmy Butler, who had missed two straight games due to injury, returned against Portland and had 16 points, seven assists and season-high-tying six steals.
The Heat need Butler because he is their fourth-quarter closer, routinely attacking the rim and drawing fouls. He leads Miami in free throws per game (7.7), and he makes 88.4 percent of his shots from the line.
Bam Adebayo has been doing his part, as well, averaging 17.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He ranks among the top three of the team in each category.
Heat point guard Kyle Lowry, on the other hand, has struggled with his shooting this season, making 39.6 percent from the floor and 35.2 percent from behind the line. But he does lead the team in assists at 5.8 per game.
After a day off, the teams will play again in Miami on Saturday.
–Field Level Media